embedded software boot camp

Low cost tools

Thursday, September 4th, 2008 by Nigel Jones

Like many of you, I subscribe to Jack Ganssle’s newsletter (If you don’t then you should – go to http://ganssle.com/). In his latest newsletter #164 (alas not yet posted to the web) there is a thread on tools for monitoring serial protocols such as I2C. I was quite interested in this because it so happens I use some of the tools mentioned. What really struck me though was the fact that someone was looking for low cost tools.

I’m always baffled when I see this. If I believe the salary surveys, most engineers in the USA are earning well over $100K. Throw in benefits and your average engineer costs his / her employer about $200K a year, or close to $100 per working hour. Why then do employer’s balk at spending a few thousand dollars on a decent tool? I’ve seen people spend days on compiler problems because they are using a “free” tool; I’ve had people tell me that they don’t use Lint because it’s too expensive (<$400!); I’ve seen people struggle for days simply because their oscilloscope isn’t up to the job. In all these cases, the cost in terms of their time dwarfs the equipment / tool cost.

What I want are great tools. I want tools that are intuitive to use, that work really well, are tolerant of my occasional ham-fistedness and that I trust. For example, I have a Fluke 87 multimeter sitting next to me. It costs quadruple what a Radio Shack special costs. It’s worth every penny.

Here’s an ending thought. You are going in for open heart surgery. The surgeon comes out and says “don’t worry – I’ve got some great low cost tools to use on you”. And we wonder why engineers don’t get the respect that doctors do.


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